Dental anxiety is fear concomitant with a dental setting, whether it’s the thought of someone being up close in your mouth, the buzzing and drilling sounds, or the sterile smell. This fear can come from bad experiences in the past and various emotions associated with your anxiety over your oral health.
However, given the invaluableness of oral care to your well-being, dental anxiety shouldn’t keep you away from regular cleanings and checkups. Confronting your fear head-on can make dentist appointments within the bounds of possibility.
Below are seven coping mechanisms that can help you overcome your dental anxiety.
Choosing a Reliable and Trustworthy Dental Practice
It all starts with finding a dentist you like. Take note that you and your potential dentist will be long-term partners, so you should find one with which you can be relaxed and safe. The American Dental Association (ADA) suggests doing the following to find the right dentist for you:
- Ask family members or close friends and relatives for their suggestions for local dental practice. You might want to visit the same office if they like and are satisfied with their dentist.
- Search online for local dental practices in your area, and keep your eyes open for patient reviews. Some patients may leave online reviews mentioning dental anxiety and how that dental practice dealt with it. If you reside in Bentleigh, Australia, Bentleigh Dental Services by Dr Rita is among the most positively reviewed online. This positive feedback gives you insight into how good a provider is.
- Leverage the power of social media. Join local Facebook groups and ask for recommendations. Search the dental practices’ pages for reviews and look at their services.
- Reach out to your local or state dental societies. The ADA has a list on its website. Check them out.
Once you have a few recommendations for a new provider, call or visit them. There are a few questions you need to ask them to ensure they’re a good fit:
- How much do common dental surgeries or procedures typically cost?
- Do their office hours fit your schedule?
- Are they close to your workplace or home?
- How do they deal with after-hour emergencies?
Moreover, before making a decision, research the medical background of the dentists. Check if they’re a member of the ADA. Also, check if the dentist has no malpractice claims experience.
Spend enough time to get to know your potential dentist. Selecting one may seem easy, but remember that dental care is a personal service. Hence, you want the relationship to last for a long time.
Try Muscle Relaxation Activities
Dental anxiety is not just a little discomfort. It can cause insomnia, vomiting, nausea, or panic attacks. As you lean back or stretch out in the dentist’s chair, tension manifests in your back, stomach, and shoulders.
So, how can you deal with all these? Try progressive muscle relaxation. It’s an exercise that reduces anxiety and stress in your body by slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle. Here’s how it works:
- Tighten one muscle group while inhaling for 5-10 seconds. Then, breathe out and hurriedly release the contraction in that muscle group.
- Allow yourself to relax for 10-20 seconds and then advance to the next muscle group.
- Next, concentrate on your feelings when the muscle group is loose while discharging the tension. Visualization is helpful with the release of tension.
- Finally, slowly work your way up the body.
When lying in the dental chair, you can start by tightening and loosening the muscles in your toes and moving your way up your head and neck.
Draw Your Attention to Other Things
Another thing you can do to manage your dental anxiety is to distract yourself. On the day of your appointment, bring along a few things that can shift your attention to what will happen and help tone down the noises of the dental tools in the background.
You can bring your earphones or headsets to listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or music. Similarly, you can even listen to a guided meditation app.
Not enough? Try a stress ball or fidget spinner to keep your hands busy. The physical act of tossing, rolling, or squeezing a ball can help you manage stress and divert the brain from focusing on the stimulus for that anxiety and instead fixate on a particular task.
Bring Up Your Fears to Your Dentist
Dental anxiety can make it challenging for patients to get dental care. However, talking about your anxiety to your dentist can significantly help make your appointments and visits less stressful and more manageable.
Set an appointment to talk with your dentist about your concerns. Don’t let your first-time meet-up with your dentist be the one that haunts you. Your dentist won’t be able to help you in the future, and your anxiety will worsen.
As such, set a meeting to get to know the dentist, let them know about your worries, and know whether they have the services that can help you.
It’s a good idea to list your fears so you won’t forget anything during your conversation. If you only have one fear, write what caused it or where it came from. Doing so will ensure you share all the essential details with your dentist.
Additionally, bring a list of questions you’d want to ask the dentist. It could be the following:
- Can I take breaks if needed?
- Can I listen to music?
- Can I bring someone in the room?
- If I become uncomfortable, can we stop?
Moreover, share your history with your dentist. Inform them of how your past dentists handled your anxiety, whether positive or negative.
Practice Breathing Techniques
Focusing on breathing is a proven way to calm the nervous system and ease your anxiety. There are several breathing techniques you can do while sitting or lying down in the dentist’s chair, including:
- Deep Breathing
- Pursed Lip Breathing
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- One Deep Breath
- Box Breathing
Experiment with various techniques to find one that fits your circumstances. Consult a yoga teacher or respiratory therapist to learn more about breathing techniques.
Using Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets can help you feel less afraid and anxious during a dental procedure. The pressure of weighted blankets is similar to the feeling of being held, stroked, swaddled, or hugged.
It also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, creating the deep pressure touch (DPT) sensation and lowering your heart rate. DPT can help people with anxiety by:
- Boosting oxytocin levels
- Increasing attention and focus
- Reducing repetitive behaviors
- Improvising fine motor skills
Take note that weighted blankets are not for everyone. Those with low blood pressure, asthma, and claustrophobia should consult a doctor before trying them.
Relative analgesia, or happy gas, can help you relax and take it easy during dental treatment. This form of sedation is air-based. It’s a light mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. You breathe in the air using a small tube placed inside your nose.
You will not lose awareness or wakefulness and can always chat with your dentist. Most people feel the following sensations:
- A sense of not minding or caring about being in the dental office.
- Music and voices may seem distant.
- Heavy or warm arms and legs.
- A gentle tingling in the toes and fingers.
Dental anxiety is common. It affects many people worldwide. But fear not! With the tips outlined in this post, you can have manageable and stress-free dental visits in the future. Combat those negative thoughts to keep your smile healthy and strong.